Not that McQuaid doesn’t have first impressions to share. On Romney, he remarks, “It’s easier to count up the number of times he’s been married than for the other candidates. What a novelty!” On Gingrich, McQuaid is more enthusiastic than most. “Short memories we all have, but he brought the Republicans to control of the U.S. House for the first time in my lifetime.” (Close: McQuaid was five when Republicans lost control in 1954, 40 years before the Gingrich revolution.)
On Huntsman, McQuaid is unsure. “I met him for lunch and he was a pleasant fellow, but I really didn’t get into great details, and he did not offer up any clue to me about what he might be doing if he led the country.”
He predicts debate viewers will be impressed by Herman Cain. “He is a sharp, articulate guy who unfortunately has not a lot of experience. He was in here, and I asked him, ‘Does it make it easier or tougher for you that we’ve elected a black president? He said, ‘Easier — not that I agree with anything the guy’s done. But you’ve got to remember you had 43 white guys and they weren’t all that great either.’”
Of the rest of the field, McQuaid jokes, “Santorum and Pawlenty are sort of like: Who are the other two white guys? And that’s unfortunate because I think they bring a lot to the table. Santorum is a passionate social conservative.” As for Pawlenty, “I’d like to look more at his record in Minnesota. I got a relative out there and she likes Pawlenty more than she likes that ‘kook Bachmann,’” as she calls her.
Regardless, McQuaid has advice for the candidate whoever he turns out to be. “It’s been my short experience that whatever everybody says a year out of the election is going to be the big issue, turns out not to be the big issue.” Against the conventional wisdom, he suggests foreign policy will be the big enchilada.
But McQuaid’s focus on the subject is probably predicated on the fact that he harbors severe disagreements with the GOP orthodoxy. In October 2010, he was embedded with a New Hampshire combat company in southern Afghanistan, and he came away from the experience less than sanguine about our prospects for victory. “I don’t think the way we’ve been prosecuting that engagement is the right way and I’m not impressed with the Republicans’ various positions on it,” he says.
He’s also less than pleased with our hands-off approach toward China. “I’m an old conservative guy who still calls it Red China and I think it has ill designs on the United States and the West. And I think our trade with them by greedy businessmen has not stood well in our favor, and I think we could have a better game against these guys.” In summary, he concludes, “I’m probably more on Pat Buchanan’s team.”
That team is rather skeptical of our military engagements abroad. “What the hell are we still doing with troops in Europe against the former Soviet Union and what the hell are we doing in South Korea with 50,000 troops?” he asks. And what the devil are we doing in Libya? “Gaddafi is an insane madman, and it’s too bad, but there are a hell of a lot of places in the world where there are bad people in the world and we can’t be the Lone Ranger.”
Yes, McQuaid will be watching with interest tonight. But maybe he won’t have to threaten any more candidates with a baseball bat.
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.